Proteas squad missing off-spinner, says Pat Symcox

2012-10-23 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa may have missed a trick by overlooking a specialist off-spinner for the imminent three-Test tour of Australia, says former Proteas combatant Pat Symcox.

Symcox, a commentator during the Twenty20 Champions League, told Sport24 that in terms of the makeup of the 15-man South African squad “the glaringly obvious thing is the absence of an off-spinner”.

A representative on two previous post-isolation tours Down Under in the 1990s — he took five wickets in the drawn Boxing Day Test of 1997/98 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground — Symcox conceded that likely number seven batsman JP Duminy “will provide that option a bit”.

But he said he would have tried to find room for Johan Botha.

“He has been hard done by … more so by the fact that he is based in Australia now [as captain of South Australia].

“He might not have been a bad call, especially as he gives you some batting too.

“Over the years people who’ve done well against the Aussies in slow-bowling terms have been off-spinners.

“You’ve got four potential spinners in the squad who all take the ball away from the bat [of the right-hander] — Imran Tahir, Robin Peterson, Jacques Rudolph and Faf du Plessis. So there’s only one counter to that [in Duminy].”

Symcox — now 52 and holder of 20 Test and 80 one-day international caps — believes that the Proteas may not require a genuinely attacking function from a spinner on the looming tour, which features Tests at Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

“Not with the quicks we’ve got — I think there may be some consideration to a thought that Tahir is a bit too loose and that maybe Robin is the guy to tie up an end and more or less do a Paul Harris-type of job of old,” he said.

“The quicks are fit and strong and they can run in and pick up the scalps.

“I sometimes think we’re caught in a bit of an obsession with playing a leg-spinner for the [sake of it]. Throughout Imran’s career, his record tells you he’s never been able to be a holding bowler. So don’t try to make him bowl tightly.

“I’d be comfortable having somebody who can keep it tight from one end and you can rotate your fast bowlers from the other.

“But look, South Africa are number one in the world and they’ve done pretty well so you don’t want to break down the [status quo] too much.

“Anyway, I don’t believe the Aussies are going to prepare pitches that suit spin.

“They’ve got about five fast bowlers and will go that road.

“They’ll also be coming to the party with pace — they’re going to come hard and if I was [Baggy Greens’ South African-born coach] Mickey Arthur I’d be thinking of targeting our middle order of a now 37-year-old Jacques Kallis, plus Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy.

“Maybe these guys are not at the top of their game in terms of short bowling. The Aussies will want to see some bounce and carry in the tracks … pace will have a big say in this series, on both sides, and by extension catching in the cordon behind the stumps will be crucial too.

“You drop a Kallis or a Ponting in that area early and there’s a good chance you’ll pay,” he said.

Symcox fancies that the Australians will include a left-arm paceman in their Test arsenal against the Proteas — something the tourists will not have, after Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s failure to crack the squad nod — to create useful rough for their incumbent off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

The lanky 22-year-old Mitchell Starc played in their last Test match, the third against West Indies at Roseau back in April, where they won by 75 runs to clinch the series 2-0.

Asked for a series prediction, Symcox said: “I’m just leaning toward a draw. I certainly believe we can have enough to win the series, though I’m worried about AB [de Villiers] … I’m not convinced he should be keeping wicket, especially with a back problem.”

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